If you’ve glanced through my most recent reading list you will have noticed that it includes a book called ‘The Story of Philosophy’. Philosophy is a subject about which I know very little, but just enough to know that I want to know more.
As I understand it, philosophy at its heart represents a particular way of looking at and understanding the world, one which is focussed primarily on the use of human reason. It asks questions such as ‘how can we know what we know?’ ‘What is good? What is right? What is just?’ ‘How can we establish the truth of a statement?’, and seeks to answer them not through appeal to divine revelation, nor through observation and experimentation, but rather through discussion and reflection.
At a time when radicals on both sides are keen to portray a false dichotomy between religion and science, and to stoke the fires of conflict which such dichotomies all too easily produce, I see philosophy as having a valuable contribution to make in bridging the emerging gulf between those who feel compelled to choose one side or the other.
In this I must freely acknowledge my bias. I am a Christian, a sincere believer that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish teacher who lived two thousand years ago, was no ordinary man but was rather, in some mysterious way, both truly God and truly Human, and begotten by the one true God who made heaven and earth, all that is, and all that ever more shall be.
We offer thanks and praise to God… for science and discoveries, for our life together, for Aotearoa, New Zealand.
– Eucharistic Liturgy of Thanksgiving and Praise, from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book’
The claims of my religion are rooted in history but they contain much which can never be historically verified. Does God exist? Was Jesus truly divine? Was he a madman, a conman, or a myth? Are the things he taught and did relevant to us today? If so, how? Reasoned arguments can be made both for and against all of these positions, but in the twenty-first century reasoned arguments can be few and far between.
But my interest in philosophy is not primarily focussed on defending (or testing) my faith. I am genuinely curious to know what the great thinkers of history have thought about, and how, and whether and how those ways of thinking might be relevant for my life. And so, philosophy.